Where in the world is Wayne Bennett?
England coach for the past two years in a testing and dubious work environment given the mother country’s hesitation around a non-nationalistic coach, Bennett now seems to have fallen off the face of the planet just a couple of weeks out from the start of the 2017 Rugby League World Cup.
|England coach: Wayne Bennett.|
Indeed, so have his side, apart from the late unveiling of their squad over the internet.
Virtually zero promotional gigs, barely any media attention on them and all the focus firmly dispensed to the Pacific nations.
A coach’s dream. Flying under the radar, as they say.
And wouldn’t he be loving it.
The prolific 67-year-old man-manager has undoubtedly seen it all in his near five-decade association with rugby league and he has drawn on all of his lessons to give England the ultimate preparation for the historic tournament.
After taking over from popular coach, Steve McNamara, as an almost loathed choice by many English fans, Bennett embarked on perhaps the toughest coaching assignment of his career.
Immediately, he demanded the Rugby Football League shorten the Super League season this year, pencilled in both pre-season and mid-year training camps, and ensured the side were able to play an additional game by becoming involved in the Pacific Tests in Australia.
Such is Bennett’s influence in the game, he managed to convince Broncos’ suits to take part in the World Club Series back in February, providing him with crucial time in England to work on his plans for the national side.
After a disappointing campaign in the 2016 Four Nations tournament, where the Poms won only one match - against Scotland, the additional time assessing players and making arrangements with staff in England was well needed.
For all of England’s growth in the last decade amongst their national side through players shifting to the NRL and the increasing professional development of the Super League competition, the key things they have lacked is the ability to overcome their own mistakes at crucial parts of games and the experience to close-out matches.
They’ve always had the ability, the competitiveness and have never been short of emotional determination or pride.
It’s why Bennett is the perfect coach for them.
He will keep it simple, keep them focussed and give them the confidence they need.
|Bennett addressing England players during his first camp in 2016.|
He is a simple coach, with simple ideals. One of them mainly being about effort.
It’s why the overlooking of George Burgess for the side, speaks volumes.
Arguably one of the top-three best forwards in the game when South Sydney won the NRL title in 2014, Burgess’ form has drizzled down to a shadow of his former self. Put simply, when he plays it looks like he just isn’t having a crack.
Bennett knows it and he won’t have it in his squad. His omission would have sent a clear-as-daylight message to the England squad – mediocracy won’t be accepted here.
Their 30-10 win over Samoa in the mid-year Pacific Test was by no means an inspiring win for England’s World Cup journey under Bennett, but it was a real improvement on where they have come from and could prove to be a crucial experience.
While all the emphasis of the tournament thus far has been on the defection of Jason Taumalolo and Andrew Fifita to Tonga - from their respective nations of New Zealand and Australia - any talk of England’s preparations have seldom appeared in the Australian-based media.
|Remember this? We all know who the real man coaching was.|
A quick assessment on social media after the England squad was announced showed murmurings of discontent about both the list of players and Bennett’s ability to successfully guide the side through to the end. While it is unclear whether that discussion amongst the fans translated into the English media, it showed the first signs of the team’s chances being written-off before the tournament has even begun.
Again, such discourse would leave Bennett salivating about how to get the best out of his side through the five-week competition.
How many times has the coach been written-off in the past, only to later prove his detractors, haters and naysayers, blind wrong?
Even this season at the Brisbane Broncos it was suggested the mastercoach had finally lost his touch to engage with the younger generation of player.
|Does anybody play the media better than Wayne?|
Yet, despite not having a consistent line-up for the majority of the year, Bennett managed to lead Brisbane to a preliminary final, going out just one game short of the grand finale, to what has been said to be one of the best sides in modern rugby league history.
Bennett initially had all the ruthless rugby league media breathing down his neck when he first took on the England job. Now, whether by default or design, he has virtually no-one looking at him or his side.
Perfectly-positioned, written-off before it’s even begun, flying under-the-radar and with no-hope given of tournament honours, Coach Bennett has played everything right into his team’s hands.
It might look like his promiscuous approach to the England job has been a learn-on-the-run and do-the-best-we-can style, but Bennett has played his cards better than ever.
|That wry smile.|
If there’s a team to look out for at the World Cup, it’s the missing-in-action England.
There’s something intriguing about their preparation.
And there’s the man with that all-too-familiar wry smile at the helm; the one that usually appears after he has proved all of his doubters wrong.